Image courtesy: thehindu.com
On a recent visit to New Delhi, Dr. Massouda Jalal, who was Afghanistan's former Minister for Women's Affairs from 2004 to 2006, reflected on the situation of women in Afghanistan. Dr. Jalal, a psychiatrist and pediatrician, expressed concern that 89% of Afghan women remain illiterate.
Interviewed by Delhi-based journalist Bula Devi, Dr. Jalal underlined the need for Afghan women to be included in the peace process initiated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. However, she also stressed that the international community must not hold talks with the Taliban, stating: "we all know their ideology, their vision and their mission, and we all know what they will do once they are again in power."
Following are excerpts from the interview:
"About 70%of the Population in Afghanistan is Facing Extreme Poverty; This Extreme Poverty in Afghanistan has a Female Face"
Q: "What is the status of women in Afghanistan?"
Massouda Jalal: "The status of women in Afghanistan was the worst right after the Taliban regime. But after the power of investment and the energy of the international community and the United Nations, it has become second worse in the world. So it is better than in the Taliban's time but it is still a matter of concern. About 70% of the population in Afghanistan is facing extreme poverty. This extreme poverty in Afghanistan has a female face because of inadequate access to economic opportunities and economic resources for women."
Q: "What about education of women?"
Massouda Jalal: "Afghanistan's population is approximately 30 million as in the nationwide census, and half of them are women and girls. About 89% of the vast majority of women in the country is illiterate; of this figure, 80 percent lives in the rural areas. Illiteracy is mostly in the rural areas. What little literacy and education that we have for women is concentrated particularly in the cities and the capital."
"Power, Locally, Most Often Belongs to the Extremist Groups; They don't Want Women to Be in the Mainstream Peace Process"
Q: "Should women be brought into the peace process?"
Massouda Jalal: "Sure. They are the real peacemakers; they are the actual messengers of peace."
Q: "Why have women been kept away from the peace process?"
Massouda Jalal: "It's because in Afghanistan, power, locally, most often belongs to the extremist groups. They don't want women to be in the mainstream peace process and be participative, empowered and benefit from the process. They want women to be at home and obey the male members of their families."
Q: "In that case should the 'good Taliban' be brought into the mainstream governance?"
Massouda Jalal: "Well, names and titles are given to help these groups to be engaged in power; otherwise we all know [about] the Taliban when they were ruling Afghanistan; we all know their ideology, their vision and their mission, and we all know what they will do once they are again in power; we know they don't want women to participate outside their own life."
"Donor Agencies should Stop All Negotiations with the Taliban; [The Taliban] should be Disarmed"
Q: "Do you think Afghanistan has hit rock-bottom since international humanitarian organizations are also feeling the threat?"
Massouda Jalal: "Targeting international groups means that the Taliban want to create fear in international circles in Afghanistan; to frighten them so that they leave Afghanistan because the presence of international organizations helps to make Afghanistan empowered as a whole and come out of the current crises. But the enemies of Afghanistan do not want that; and so the international groups are being targeted."
Q: "So has it hit the worst situation?"
Massouda Jalal: "Afghanistan has reached a blind point; it cannot move and that is why the international community is speaking with the Taliban to bribe the Taliban with political power and engage it in the political processes and stop the killings. In a way they are placing Afghanistan in the hands of criminals. I do not know why the international community or even the U.N. trusts the Taliban.
"The Taliban had (ruled) Afghanistan and threatened the security of the world. The international community wants to make the same mistake again."
Q: "Do you think donor agencies should change their strategy?"
Massouda Jalal: "Donor agencies should stop all negotiations with the Taliban. They should be disarmed through other mechanisms and removed from Afghanistan..."
 The Hindu, India, September 13, 2010. The text of the interview has been lightly edited for clarity.